By Martin Hardy
England's troubled Euro 2012 finals campaign received a further blow last night with the news that the forward Darren Bent is unlikely to feature because of injury.
Bent ruptured his ankle ligaments in Aston Villa's goalless draw at Wigan Athletic on Saturday and, after visiting a specialist in London yesterday, was told he will be sidelined for a minimum of 10 weeks.
The 28-year-old was said to be devastated last night. Twice he has missed out on appearing at World Cup finals as provisional squads were cut down to their final number.
Bent has emerged as one of the Premier League's most consistent goalscorers in recent seasons following big-money moves to Spurs, Sunderland and Aston Villa, and his likely absence is another major loss for England. Even if Bent were to return in May, he would have just a week to prove his fitness for the finals in Poland and Ukraine.
Managerless England are already without Wayne Rooney for the first two group games in the finals, against France and Sweden, as he serves the suspension for his needless red card against Montenegro in the final qualifying game of the campaign.
Whoever the manager is by the time the finals start in June will be desperately short of firepower. England face the Netherlands in a friendly at Wembley tomorrow night with only Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Fraizer Campbell as recognised strikers. The trio have yet to score a goal at international level.
Bent's injury opens the door further for a final fight for the remaining striking places with Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Bobby Zamora and Andy Carroll needing to show they can emerge as genuine options.
Carroll's Liverpool team-mate Stewart Downing believes the £35m striker has shown the form in recent weeks to be given a further opportunity on the international stage.
"Yes, I think there is [a place for him in the squad]," Downing said. "He's played before, he's scored for England and he's done well. He needs to keep working hard and playing well for Liverpool and he'll get his chance again." Downing added of his team-mate Carroll: "He's been playing very well. He's stepped up it up with some big performances. I'm sure he's probably disappointed he's not in [the squad]. I'm sure he's looking to the Euros thinking probably he's got a chance of playing, but for Andy he just has to keep playing well and hope Stuart [Pearce] takes note of it."Reuse content